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Professor Emeritus

Email: donald.nonini(@)



Areas of Interest

Urban anthropology; political anthropology; class, race, ethnic and gender inequalities; food studies; Chinese in Southeast Asia; the southern U.S.; China.


Ph.D. in Anthropology, Stanford University, 1983.

Research Background

Fieldwork and Archival Research: Penang state, West Malaysia, 1978-1980, 1985 and summers 1990-1992, 1997, 2002, 2007; Australia, summers 2000, 2003; North Carolina, U.S., 1997, 2010-2012, 2018; Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2016.

Present Research:

Throughout my career, I have been committed to studying the various forms of power that structure yet harm the lives of people in the cities of the modern world.  Class exploitation, racial supremacy and gender oppression are forms of power connected to the domination of capitalism, racism and sexism.  I have examined these forms of power and the arenas in which they operate as they apply to Chinese in Southeast Asia, and to white, black and Latinx people in the southern United States.    Unlike most cultural anthropologists, I am not only interested in the individual experiences of those oppressed, but also in the critical analysis and history of the capitalist, racist, and sexist systems that oppress them, since seeking not only to understand but also to limit and transcend such systems is the practice of the anthropology of solidarity I am convinced matters.

My current research has two foci in pursuit of this commitment.

First, I continue my long-term study of Southeast and East Asia with a specific curiosity about the ways in which class exploitation and racial oppression operate within and “between” urban Chinese diasporic populations and Sinophobic states in Southeast Asia, with special reference to Malaysia and Indonesia.   My dissertation and follow-up research led to the widely cited co-edited book (with Aihwa Ong),  Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism (Routledge, 1996) and to my critical ethnography of the performance of class exploitation and racial conflict among/between Chinese and the Malaysian state, “Getting By”: Class and State Formation among Chinese in Malaysia (Cornell, 2015). I developed my concern with Chinese diasporic transnationalism (and its attendant gendered, classed and raced inequalities) further in ethnographic fieldwork in Australia I undertook in 2000 and 2003 among Chinese Indonesians who fled Indonesia after the xenophobic attacks on the Jakarta Chinese community in mid-May 1997 as the Suharto New Order regime began to fall (Nonini 2004; Nonini 2006).

I am currently pursuing two research topics along these lines.  One is the rise since the early 2000s to economic prominence of China in Southeast Asia within the frame of China’s globalizing “going out” (chuqu) and “One Belt, One Road” (yidai yilu) policies has had implications for issues of environmental care and despoliation undertaken by the bourgeoisie of the Chinese diaspora e.g., in oil palm plantations and timber industries in Malaysia and Indonesia, which I seek to investigate. In this research, I attempt to combine my commitment to the analysis of classed, raced, and gendered forms of power with a critical political ecology.     The other topic has to do with a shift of focus to the presence of the PRC party-state in Southeast Asia.   In this context, I am undertaking research on the processes through which the party-state is shifting away from an accommodation with “global” (i.e., Western) neoliberalism toward the institutionalization of a new mode of governance through the interpenetration of corporate and state logics of economization and violence within an emergent China corporate-state manifested both within China itself and in Southeast Asia.